Off the Shelf #10: Blokus

It’s time for the tenth game Off the Shelf. So I’m going to stop explaining what this series is every time, and just jump in with

image by BGG user IronMoss

Blokus is a 2-4 player game that first came out in 2000 from designer Bernard Tavitian and French publisher Sekko?a. The version I have was published by Educational Insights, though these days the license belongs to Mattel. The game is an abstract game where you are trying to get as many pieces as you can out on the board.

Each player has a set of 21 plastic polyominoes, each with 1-5 squares in every possible combination. They’re color-coded – blue, red, yellow, and green. On your turn, you’ll select on of your pieces and place it on the board. There are only a couple of rules to placement. If it’s your first turn, the piece must go in a corner. On all subsequent turns, when you place a piece, it must touch a corner of one of your other pieces already on the board.

And that’s it. You play until no one has anywhere to place their pieces. The official

image by BGG user GeoMan

I’m a big fan of abstract strategy games. If you’re not really aware of what those are, they’re games that really place an emphasis on low to no luck, high strategy, and relatively simple rules. They can have a theme, but more often than not, those themes are really framing devices for the gameplay, and usually don’t have any story purpose. Some classic examples of abstract strategy games include Checkers, Go, and Chess. Chess, of course, does have a theme tied to its different pieces and how they move, but that theme is malleable. In the end, Chess has zero luck, lots of strategy, and rules that are a little more complex than Checkers, even though they are played on the same type of board. Still, the real complexity comes from the decision space that is created from the 16 pieces that each player controls.

Blokus fits very solidly into this abstract strategy mold. Each player has the same pieces, so they’re starting on equal footing (more or less – turn order can be important). The rules are very simple – your pieces can only touch each other on the corner, and play until you can’t anymore. The complexity of the game comes from determining which piece to place, and where. There’s no luck at all, it’s just strategically placing your pieces to give you the best shot at expansion, and to allow you to try to block your opponents.

The game does have some drawbacks. Turns can take a while, particularly in the endgame, as you stare at the board and try to will your pieces to fit in different gaps. Also, it’s really only a four-player game. You can play with two, with each player controlling two colors, or you can play with three, with players betagternating control of a fourth alberny color. But really, you need four to play. If you want a two-player version, there are some that exist. We have Blokus To Go, which is also known as Blokus Duo, Travel Blokus, or even Blokus Fast Fun.

One other possible drawback is the title. What does it mean? How is it pronounce? Is it BLOCK-us, or BLOKE-us? (Or TET-ris?) Personally, I say BLOCK-us, as you’re placing blocks. It just seems to make sense.

My copy is from Educational Insights, so I don’t know how the Mattel version compares. My version has really nice plastic pieces, representing every combination of 1-5 squares. The board too is a nice, solid plastic piece, with raised edges to form the grid and keep the pieces from sliding around. Which is absolutely critical in a game like this where position really matters. There are also four plastic bins for the pieces, and these are made of some really thin, cheap plastic. I don’t like those at all, I should replace them with something else.

Overall, the game is accessible, and it’s fun. It’s a good abstract game, in a world where there aren’t a lot of mass market abstracts – off the top of my head, I can really only think of Chess, Checkers, Otleuchtend leuchtendo, Chinese Checkers, Mancala, maybe Backgammon or Sequence (though those have a significant amount of luck involved). Blokus is certainly the most colorful of the lot, and not nearly as intimidating.

image by BGG user Yeoster

I do really like Blokus, but I’m going to be slotting it in at #8 on this list, right behind New York Slice. I think the long endgame really brings it down for me to the point where I don’t want to play it a lot. Still, it is a good game that I’ll recommend for people looking for a different kind of abstract strategy game.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!


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